The word Maundy comes from the Latin word mandatum meaning commandment found in the gospel acclamation for today: Mandatum novum de vobis (I give you a new commandment: love one another just as I have loved you) from St John’s Gospel 13.34.
On the first Maundy Thursday, Christ commanded followers ‘to love one another’ and washed his followers’ feet.
This happened at the Last Supper which is recognised as the institution of Holy Communion.
Tonight we are unable to be in church for Mass of The Last Supper and join the watch in the ‘garden’ but we can recall the events and keep the hours in our hearts.
What Happened Today
Matthew 26.17-75; Mark 14.12-72; Luke 22.7-65; John 13.1- 18.27
The disciples ask Jesus where they should prepare their Passover meal to be eaten tonight. He sends Peter and John into Jerusalem telling them to follow a man carrying a pitcher of water to a house.
They must ask him to show them the dining room. Jesus assures them that they will be shown an upstairs room where they can make preparations. It was not unusual for families to hire a room for Passover in Jerusalem.
The Last Supper
In the evening, probably after 6pm, Jesus and his twelve inner group of disciples arrive at the chosen house. The Passover meal would always include women and children so Jesus’s mother Mary, who was in Jerusalem, would have been a natural guest.
First Jesus removes a garment and wraps a towel round his waist to wash the feet of the disciples. Peter is overwhelmed at this act, usually undertaken by servants or humble people, and tries to resist but Jesus insists.
‘If I, then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.’
Knowing there was a dispute, about which of them was the greatest, Jesus says that any leader must behave as if he was the one who serves.
During the first course Jesus warns that one of them will betray him. The shocked disciples, including Judas, say: ‘Not me Lord, surely?’
But when John, sitting next to Christ, asks who it is, Jesus replies that it is the disciple ‘to whom I shall give the bread that I dip in the dish’. As soon as Judas accepts the bread he leaves.
Now Jesus breaks a piece of the bread, blesses it and says: ‘This is my body’. He then picks up a cup of wine saying: ‘This is my blood.’ This is the institution of the Eucharist and the first Holy Communion.
By about 8pm Jesus speaks at some length giving what is his farewell discourse to the future leaders of the church. It’s a message of reassurance and he gives a hint of the Trinity saying that he will send the Holy Spirit.
The latter came at Pentecost and the former we celebrate on Trinity Sunday. So the eleven disciples left at the table, instructed to offer bread and wine in remembrance, became the Apostles, or first bishops, and all priests are the assistants of their successors. Tonight Jesus founds the Church by appealing to his followers to remain united and it is this call which is remembered every year during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in January.
At the end of the meal they sing psalms 113 to 118, as is traditional at the end of a Passover meal, before setting out downhill on a walk of about twenty minutes to the Garden of Gethsemane across the valley at the foot of the Mount of Olives. It is now approaching 10pm.
Jesus stops to pray and urges others to keep awake.
At around midnight Judas reappears and greets Jesus with a customary kiss.
This is the signal for the chief priests deciding to arrest Jesus who is detained at the house of the Chief Priest Caiaphas .
Peter, who has followed at a distance, denies knowing Jesus and as he hears a cock at 6am he remembers Jesus’ words: ‘Before the cock crows twice, you will have disowned me three times.’